The truth about Trotsky, Lenin - and Jack Straw

Is he getting in early on Lenin's side because he's concerned this could be a key issue at the election?
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The Independent Online

If you follow the letters page in this paper, you might have seen this week's letters from Jack Straw about disagreements between Lenin and Trotsky, in which he derides Trotskyists as "humourless". Unlike New Labour politicians, of course, who are all regular top billing for variety night at the Palladium. Oh the screams they must have in those cabinet meetings. Geoff "make 'em roar" Hoon warms them up, then comes Tessa Jowell and her rapid-fire one-liners, then Blunkett with his hilarious ventriloquist act - "I've got a gottle of geer," ... "well you're not allowed to have one in the street, you antisocial bastard, I'm locking you in your box," - "I don't want to go in my box ..."

Or perhaps Jack is getting in early with taking Lenin's side because he's concerned this debate could be a major issue at the next election. The manifesto will say: "As well as building upon the success of the SureStart scheme, we will assist the creation of a vanguard party committed to overthrowing reactionary imperialist running dogs, by entitling every underground member to a Working Bolshevik Tax Credit."

The argument he appears to be presenting is that Lenin was a reasonable chap who warned that Trotsky would be dangerous. So it's acceptable to have been a supporter of one but not the other. The problem with this is that from the revolution onwards, Lenin and Trotsky agreed on every major issue, that the First World War was a waste of lives, that working people should have bread, that peasants should have land and that power should pass to those workers and peasants. They were so united, there appears to have been no personal animosity whatsoever. To pick an example at random, nowhere is it recorded that they'd once had a meal at which Lenin promised to hand power to Trotsky after a few years, but then changed his mind, leaving Trotsky seething and undermining Lenin at every opportunity.

It's also peculiar that, whatever else you think about him, Trotsky can be said to stand for the "humourless". Modern politicians are so dull that you stand out as "colourful" by having scruffy blond hair and talking posh gibberish. Whereas Trotsky escaped from prison under a bale of hay in a sledge driven by a drunken Eskimo. When he was skint, he became an extra in a war film. Later, he founded an army (in which he rode a horse) that defeated 14 invading countries, he was twice elected leader of a revolution and when he had an extra-marital affair it was with Frida Kahlo, ground-breaking artist of the 20th century, who has to have the edge over some talentless, stuck-up twerp called Petronella.

The prejudice of historians has blinded the world to the fact that Trotsky was cool. It's a tragedy he was murdered by Stalin in 1940, because if he'd survived a few more years he'd have been a drummer with John Coltrane or co-starring with Errol Flynn in a film about pirates.

And he was funny. When Stalin announced at a conference "We could have socialism in one country, if we ignore the international situation," Trotsky called out: "We could walk naked through the streets of Moscow, if we ignore the police and the weather."

Trotsky's main importance in history may have been to maintain the idea that it was possible to remain a socialist while deploring the regimes set up by Stalin and his supporters. Just as Lenin stood for similar ideals to Trotsky, there is also evidence that suggests a difference between Lenin and his supporters on the one hand, and Stalin and his supporters on the other. Which is that one side had all the other side shot. This, it could be argued, indicates a difference of some significance.

But if there is a figure from the revolution that New Labour should identify with, Stalin may well be the man. The crowing 11-minute ovations at conferences are straight from the Politburo circa 1938. If Stalin was brought magically back to life, he could show Blair and Mandelson a few tricks with an airbrush and "hey, there never was a Frank Dobson or a Robin Cook". On the other hand, if they showed him how to control lackeys with a pager, Stalin would be wetting himself.

But the main question must be - isn't Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary? In which case, hasn't he got any work to do? He shouldn't have time to muck about like this. Has he been ringing into the office, saying: "I'll have to cancel my meeting with the Syrian ambassador, I'm still looking up this stuff about the role of the peasants?" Or perhaps, as his job is to agree with everything said by his leader whose foreign policy is everything said by his leader, poor Jack sits in the foreign office all day, just like any bored office worker.

Maybe he rings up diplomats to say: "I concur with what the President said in his address this morning. But the main thing is did you get that e-mail, the one of David Beckham in the bath with Alex Ferguson? Bloody funny. Here, can you send me that one of Rooney. I'll have a look at that, agree with the President about Palestine and Turkey, send off a letter to the New Scientist about Che Guevara, then I might as well go home."